You’ve probably been bombarded with stories and information about how alcohol, when drunk to excess, can be bad for you. To be fair, the medical profession, from where most of the advice emanates, has a point. Too much booze – especially drunk too quickly – can make you a danger to yourself and to others.
What about cooking with alcohol? Maybe you don’t think there’s much point in putting what you’d rather drink into food, but actually you can do it perfectly healthily and make some really nice additions to meals and other items you prepare.
What alcohol can bring to food
You’re probably familiar with the Christmas ritual of pouring brandy over the Christmas pudding – made, of course, without using any animal fats – and lighting it, watching that lovely blue flame as it burns the alcohol and flickers down to nothing. Some may consider it’s a waste of a good drink, but there’s no doubt it adds something to the taste when served.
Of course, you could (and probably should) add a little cognac or Armagnac – or anything else that takes your fancy to your Christmas pudding when you are mixing that amazing conglomeration of fruits.
So what does alcohol bring to food? Alcohol acts like salt with food, bringing out the flavour whether you’re cooking with it, preparing a marinade for vegetable kebabs or using it to enhance fruit. The smell of alcohol, which is frequently associated with wine and whisky, evaporates quickly because the molecules they bring to your nose are volatile. However, there are many deliciously flavoured alcohols such as port, kirsch or champagne (keep plenty of champagne for your champagne flutes!) that can give your cooking an additional sensuousness.
Don’t overdo it
You’re looking for healthy, not drowning your kitchen creations in alcohol. Subtlety is the name of the game because if you put in too much of your chosen tipple then the food will smell of the alcohol, and that’s not the result you should be looking for.
If, for example, you put a small amount of kirsch into a delicious fruit salad, it will help the aroma of the fruit when you smell it. It’s the same if you macerate peaches in a little Pinot Noir, the gentle application of the alcohol once again enhancing the wonderful smell of the fruit.
What you’re doing is adding an extra touch of luxury to your recipe, and you can use alcohol in so many different ways that are perfectly healthy and will pleasantly surprise your dinner guests.
No need for meat
Marinades are usually associated with meat dishes, but you can develop marinades for any vegetables, whether you’re baking, sautéing or grilling them. A touch of alcohol in the marinade will help the vegetable flavors develop and, of course, it’s fun to experiment to find out what works best for you.
Great tasting food
Bringing out taste is what alcohol, used properly, can do, and it can add a real zing to what you bring out onto the table. Soups, stews, casseroles and desserts can all benefit, so why not give it a try?